A Risk-Free 'Nader' in 2004

Progressives, activists, Greens and those who are tired of politics-as-usual have been attempting to strategize this year about how to advance the progressive agenda at a national level without jeopardizing the fight against Bush. Dean carried revolutionary fire for a time but he is now vanquished. Some had hopes for Clark, but he is gone as well. Neither Kerry nor Edwards offers a strong vision of fundamental change of the actual system. And Ralph Nader's candidacy as an Independent, announced on Meet The Press Sunday, only lessens the chances of success in November. The challenge we now face is how to promote systemic change without handing Bush another four years.

Whether by fate or luck, an ideal solution emerged Feb. 18 with the exit of Dean from the race. Dean's exit has introduced a "risk-free Nader" this year, with a parallel platform to the one Nader advanced in 2000. That risk-free Nader is Dennis Kucinich.

Kucinich's long-shot candidacy faces almost insurmountable barriers. A betting house in London places his odds at receiving the nomination at 200 to 1. However, Kucinich promises to keep campaigning all the way through the convention. He has infrastructure in 50 states, a loyal base, a staff, a website and enough momentum and money to stay the course. His platform is as progressive as they come; even Nader previously said he wouldn't run if Kucinich got the nomination. Up-and-coming Greens like Matt Gonzalez in San Francisco back him as well.

That makes him perfect to be the risk-free Nader this year. Kerry and Edwards are not taking him seriously, so they are not spending money on beating him. He's also running within the Democratic party itself, so there's no danger of him being the spoiler in the general election. Kucinich has said that he will definitely support the Democratic nominee beyond the convention, so there can be no distraction from the focus on uniting in the effort to beat Bush. Best of all, progressives of every stripe tend to love Kucinich and he even has strong appeal to conservatives, who vote him into office in his home district by large margins.

By keeping Kucinich's candidacy alive and vibrant, many Americans who otherwise feel alienated from the Democratic party will be able to witness their voice and values expressed with intelligence, passion and clarity within the party. They will stay engaged and have strong representation at the convention.

We thus have a perfect torchbearer for the progressive vision to carry forth the changes we seek and get them installed as much as possible in the Democratic platform, without endangering the fight against Bush. The stronger Kucinich's backing and momentum going into the convention and the more his ideas are heard on the campaign trail, the more that will shape the Democratic platform.

Chances are that Kucinich champions exactly those things you believe in: peace, universal health care, sustainability, social justice, improved education, gay rights and fair trade, as well as getting out of Iraq and repealing the Patriot Act. He even supports Instant Runoff Voting, the key to third parties gaining a real foothold in the political process.

The other thing possible via the Kucinich campaign is to expose some of the dirtier deeds of the Bush administration without providing Republican strategist Karl Rove with additional ammunition. Kucinich is always willing to fight the unpopular battles when the cause is just. He led the push in the House against the Iraq war, exposed this administration's deceits around weapons of mass destruction, publicly took on the blackbox voting scandal with Diebold, and has taken on corrupt corporate interests throughout his career.

Another virtue of backing Kucinich is that he has absolutely no strings attached, with zero money from special interest groups. He can campaign on truth and principle, with no fears about facing Rove attacks in the fall or alienating his corporate backers.

The result: We get four months with a powerful orator and practical politician championing the progressive vision within the Democratic party. A four-month, risk-free candidacy that actually has real traction on the floor of the Democratic convention and gets national debate coverage. No need to build a new infrastructure, face the lynchmob or sit out the game. Four months to get the Democratic party establishment off its butt and moving forward.

With Nader now running as an Independent, the strategy of rallying behind Kucinich can effectively minimize the dangers of that and advance the same basic progressive platform. Let's not waste this opportunity!

Stephen Dinan is the author of "Radical Spirit" (New World Library, 2002), and founder of the Radical Spirit Community.

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